A Sister's Dream: 10-Year-Old Raises Thousands for Autism Research

Michala Riggle made bracelets to raise money for autism research.

ByABC News via logo
February 18, 2009, 8:47 PM

Dec. 4, 2007 — -- After being inspired by her younger brother's progress with an experimental autism treatment, 10-year-old Michala Riggle decided to find a way to help other children who struggle with autism.

Michala, whose 7-year-old brother, Evan, has the disorder, and her parents were impressed with changes they saw after Evan was injected with an amino acid and antioxidant called Glutathione.

Before the treatment Evan's day-to-day life was filled with struggles. His mother heard it might help minimize his temper tantrums.

"It's hard because when he wants something that we won't let him have, he'll get mad and frustrated," said Michala, who lives in Kentucky.

The Riggles tried several things to help Evan when they finally stumbled upon one that seemed to have drastic and dramatic results.

For the first time in his life, Evan was able to dress himself.

"It has made a life-changing difference. Is Evan cured? No. Is he better? Yes," said Evan and Michala's mother, Emlyn Riggle.

But doctors are skeptical of Evan's changes because no scientific evidence is available to support the claims made by Glutathione proponents. Yet, after seeing Evan's progress, doctors at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, Ky., agreed to try the treatment on other patients.

"I have to tell you, I was very skeptical," said Dr. Steven Wright, of Kosair Children's Hospital.

The four patients the hospital tested saw improvements too, but four patients are not a scientific study.

"There really is very little that can be generalized from a story about three or four individuals besides the interest in pursuing some real research on the topic," said Dr. Peter Gerhardt, of the Organization for Autism Research.

A larger study would cost at least $200,000 and so Michala thought she would try and raise some of the money needed by making bracelets.

She sold them for $2 a piece and the operation was small in the beginning, as Michala made each bracelet.

"She walks in and pulls out a baggie with $29 in it and showed me all these bracelets she's beaded," Wright said.

After enlisting friends and family to help, Michala noticed more donations coming in too. Michala raised about $22,000 through last week. It was a start, but short of the several thousand dollars needed to start a study.

But at a ceremony to celebrate her fundraising efforts Sunday, Michala unwrapped a big check and was surprised to see more zeros than she expected.

A number of donors had pushed her total to $101,000 and then a private foundation impressed with Michala's determination contributed $100,000, making Michala's dream a reality.

"Physicians at Kosair plan to begin the Glutathione studies on 50 patients in January," said Leslie Buddeke, of Kosair Children's Hospital Foundation.

A humble and thankful Michala thanked the crowd at the reception tearfully.

"I really couldn't have done this without all the people who have helped me," she said. "I would have been beading in my sleep to raise this much."

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